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PJ Pioneer gets real on life, career

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“I’m pretending that I’m cool” is not exactly a good thing to say at the start of a show about your career on stage.

But, somehow the very talented PJ Powers turns what could have been a overly sentimental show into an interesting account of the way things were for one person.

Penelope Jane Dunlop always wanted to perform on a stage and now she has turned her life’s story into a narrative woven around some of her most famous songs.

And you will be astounded by just how much of her music you know. Before the word “crossover” meant anything to record labels, Powers was creating songs that played as well on Springbok Radio as on Zulu radio, and we get to hear them all.

Feel So Strong, You’re So Good To Me and Jabulani, she does them all, mixed up with a few tracks off her new album, Destiny, including a song called Firefly (hence the show’s name).

She is constantly moving around the well-lit stage, mic in hand, dancing around during songs and then perching on the edge of a dais to let you in on what it was like to perform to a full Jabulani Stadium in Soweto, or just exactly what it was she said to the queen when she was presented after a command performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Her humour is self-deprecating and witty without descending into pity and she tells of her career’s ups and downs and just how low substance abuse can take you.

While the backing tracks are pre-recorded, she is definitely singing live – her mic cut out at one point, but she rolled her eyes, fixed it and kept on going.

She is a warm presence on stage, drawing you in to just how she became an unlikely pioneer of sound and stage, a peace prophet ahead of her time. It seems like a story made up for a tv film, and yet this was and is her life.

There is a sameness to the canned music that could be discarded if she had a live band on stage. Her loyalty to her music producers means that while her lyrics have changed over the years to reflect the changing times, the production of even her newer music is still stuck in the ’80s.

Her souped-up house version of Betty Davis Eyes stands out, as does her take on David Bowie’s Life on Mars. Where she excels though is with the tracks from her ’90s tribute to Janis Joplin. Power’s interpretation of Joplin’s take on Summertime is an excellent showcase for her voice.

This is the beginning of a show which could have legs – and the professional that she is, Powers (together with director Maralin Vanrenen) will tweak the show. Already it is a step ahead of so many of the twee tribute shows you normally find on this stage.

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